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Photograph: John P. Johnson/HBO; Photo Illustration: Jamie Divecchio Ramsay

Alan Ball | Interview

Alan Ball stakes out a new HBO show.


The creator of Six Feet Under and Oscar-winning writer of American Beauty based his new HBO series, True Blood, on Charlaine Harris’s novels about telepathic Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) in a world inhabited by vampires. Ball called the morning after True Blood’s first-season wrap party.

Time Out Chicago: In one interview you said it’s easy to look at True Blood’s vampires as a metaphor for gays; in another you said you really don’t look at them that way. So…which is it?
Alan Ball: Well, it’s both. It’s easy to look at the vampires as a metaphor for any feared or misunderstood group. It’s also easy to look at them as a metaphor for a shadow organization that says one thing and has a completely different agenda on their mind, and anybody who gets in their way, they just get rid of them. Does that sound familiar? [Laughs]

TOC: You have something in mind?
Alan Ball: Like the current administration. So the vampires are a very fluid metaphor, and that’s why I like them. Had the show been done 50 years ago, they could very easily be seen as a metaphor for people of color. I’m not making a show about the trouble that gays and lesbians have. There is some legitimacy to that, but I don’t think that’s all it’s about.

TOC: The very energetic sex scenes with Ryan Kwanten’s character: You must be aware those are different from most sex scenes, which focus more on women’s bodies.
Alan Ball: Sure, I’m aware of that. We live in a patriarchal culture. It’s okay for women to be objectified but not for men.

TOC: So are you trying to correct that?
Alan Ball: I don’t think about teaching. I try to make a show I myself would watch, and personally I would like to see more man candy. It’s very clear in our pop culture that women are packaged for sexual consumption. I also feel like we are still prudish about sex and don’t like to see it treated frankly. Maybe in that regard I’m like, “You know what? People have sex.”

TOC: Claire in Six Feet Under, Angela in American Beauty, Sookie in True Blood and Jasira in your upcoming film Towelhead: They’re all young women whose burgeoning sexuality involves older guys. Why does that character appeal to you?
Alan Ball: My first play was about a young girl who had been assaulted. Let’s just say it’s a personal issue for me. I’m not gonna write a tell-all book or spill my guts to Vanity Fair, but things happened to me as a child that certainly have stuck with me, and I try to explore the themes of curiosity on the younger person’s part and the refusal to be victimized by it. There is a fetishization of victimization in our culture. And I just am not interested in victimhood.

TOC: Like Six Feet Under, True Blood deals with mortality. Your sister’s death in a car accident when you were 13 must’ve shaped your interests as a writer, your themes—
Alan Ball: Of death being a constant presence in your life? [Laughs] Certainly that shaped me, and certainly my spiritual studies have shaped me. I’m drawn to Buddhism, and one of the central tenets of Buddhism is that the physical world is temporary, and that’s why it’s very important to live in the moment.

TOC: The New York Times said that True Blood’s extensive ad campaign is “a testament to how desperately HBO needs a new hit.”
Alan Ball: [Laughs] That’s a very backhanded compliment, isn’t it?

TOC: Are you feeling the network’s expectations of you here?
Alan Ball: No, that’s not for me. I do the best show I can, then I go home and I have a life. Ultimately, it’s just television.

TOC: You do sound Buddhist.
Alan Ball: I’m not gonna make myself crazy. I don’t care what network’s on top. The whole concept of “oh, we’re on top and we beat you” is kind of childish anyway.

TOC: You grew up in Georgia; the show is set in Louisiana. Are you concerned about treating the South as a place of oddballs and freaks, weird Southerners who do things like—
Alan Ball: Like open a business where you can take household objects you’re mad at and shoot them—which they did in my hometown?

TOC: So you do think the South is a place for oddballs and freaks?
Alan Ball: I think the world is a place for oddballs and freaks. I’m only interested in oddballs and freaks as characters. I don’t think we condescend to the South. I love the South. I couldn’t possibly ever live there again.

TOC: Someone actually opened a store where you could just shoot things?
Alan Ball: Yeah, you could take your TV if you were mad at it and shoot it. And, like, here’s an idea: Why do you have to go somewhere and pay to do that?

True Blood premieres Sunday 7.

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